Mexico no different than Iraq, reporters tell Wilson Center

On Monday, before a large audience of government officials, representatives of NGOs, reporters, and students, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, Carlos Lauría, said that the level of crime violence, and corruption facing the press in Mexico, where more than 30 journalists have been murdered or have gone missing since Felipe Calderón took office in December of 2006, is destroying the country’s journalism and forcing many reporters into self-censorship or exile. “Not only the drug trade and corruption are not being covered, but basic daily sensitive issues are being ignored as well,” he said. “Self-censorship is pervasive.” 

At a conference sponsored by the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, the Committee to Protect Journalists pointedly summarized the key findings of its new report “Silence or Death in Mexico’s Press: If violence against the press is allowed to stand, Mexico’s future as a democratic and free society will be at risk.

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said that so far 10 journalists have been killed in Mexico in 2010, six more than in Iraq. Simon reported that six weeks after a CPJ-Inter American Press Association delegation met with Calderón, little progress has been made on key fronts: making crimes against freedom of expression a federal offense; strengthening the office of the special prosecutor responsible for prosecuting such crimes; creating a government commission to provide security to journalists under threat; and taking action to stem abuses against journalists committed by security forces. Simon reiterated his call to Calderón to give these issues his highest priority and urgent attention.

Lauría and Simon were followed by Dallas Morning News Mexico Bureau Chief Alfredo Corchado, and myself. Corchado described the perils of being a foreign correspondent covering drug-related news in Mexico and the type of self-defensive preventive security measures they are forced to take to survive. “It’s no different than Iraq,” he said. As a Mexican journalist, I shared the skepticism of many of my colleagues on whether Calderón is truly committed to defending press freedom and protecting journalists. As I wrote in a recent research paper published by the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, not one of the murders or forced disappearances of journalists since 2000 have been really solved. “We have seen more words then deeds,” I said. “Impunity is allowed to prevail in more than 90 percent of the cases. Killing reporters has no price. This is an invitation to the criminals.”

Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan assured the audience that the Calderón administration is doing everything it can to confront violence against journalists and root out corruption and impunity that “sometimes” have allowed crimes to go unpunished. “This is one struggle we cannot afford to lose in Mexico,” he said. But in answering questions, Sarukhan did not shy away from blaming the media for falling into what he called an “if it bleeds it leads dynamic” instead of providing balanced information. He said that if one reads the “mainstream” U.S. papers’ coverage on violence in Mexico, “it would seem as if there is a brush fire burning from the Rio Grande to the Guatemalan border, as if all of Mexico was blazed in an orgy of violence.” Sarukhan lashed out against a U.S. local border newspaper, which he did not name, for “creating a vision of chaos in Mexico” by publishing false data on the number of deaths in the November 5 shootout in Matamoros.